Originally created 11/05/04

Jackets can't afford loss



ATLANTA - The drills must be performed, futile as they might be.

Strip the ball. Jump the route. Catch the tip.

Force the turnover.

Those skills and techniques rarely work once the game begins, though. Creating turnovers is more a psychological exercise than a physical one.

Takeaways are products of pressure - not the kind applied by a blitzing linebacker or a bull-rushing defensive end, but the strain an offense feels over making plays and winning.

"If a team knows they are going to have to fight to try to score and win the ball game, when they know every possession is pressure-packed, that's when you get turnovers," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said.

Expect plenty of turnovers when Georgia Tech plays North Carolina State then. The teams meet at noon Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

They both have stingy defenses and turnover-prone offenses. And each desperately needs a win if it hopes to reach a bowl game.

Now that's pressure.

"We've got to win this game," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said.

Amato's Wolfpack ranks 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in turnover margin. They've committed 23 turnovers in eight games this season. First-year quarterback Jay Davis has thrown 12 interceptions, including five in last week's loss to Clemson.

Those giveaways are the biggest reason a team with the nation's third-ranked defense has a 4-4 overall record and a 3-3 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Georgia Tech's defense is far from sympathetic to struggling offenses. To score on the Yellow Jackets requires taking risks and making big plays - nine of the 16 touchdowns they've allowed this season have come on plays 20 yards or longer.

Applying pressure isn't just a part of the Jackets' scheme. It's their motto.

"We feel like we can pressure any team," free safety James Butler said. "That's our defense. We're not going to change. That's what we do."

Georgia Tech needs some generosity from the Wolfpack this weekend. Georgia Tech's offense has committed 19 turnovers and ranks just five spots ahead of N.C. State nationally in turnover margin.

The absence of injured tailback P.J. Daniels puts extra pressure on the Yellow Jackets (4-3 overall, 3-3 ACC). Gailey says opponents don't defend his offense any differently when Daniels is out of the lineup, but quarterback Reggie Ball struggles without Daniels in the backfield.

Ball has completed 36 percent of his passes and thrown six of his 12 interception in the eight quarters Daniels has missed because of injuries this season.

Gailey said he has developed several strategies for dealing with turnovers. When the Jackets struggled with turnovers earlier this season, Gailey went to a more conservative game plan and threatened to bench Ball.

He refused to outline his approach to this week's game, though, perhaps signaling his concern.

"I think you have a plan going in about how you are going to deal with" turnovers, he said. "If that doesn't work, you go to plan B, and if that doesn't work you go to plan C to try to solve the problem."

Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or adam.vanbrimmer@morris.com.